After being named a high school All-American in football and baseball, Bears first-round pick Kyle Long chose baseball because he wanted to be his own man, not Howie Long’s kid.
The middle of Howie’s three sons thought: Why bother with the intense scrutiny and constant comparisons that come with playing the same sport as your Hall of Fame father? Why not make your own name in your own field?
Besides, baseball was Kyle’s first love anyway, partly because in grade school, he wasn’t allowed to play Pop Warner Football because he was too big.
Eventually Long figured out he couldn’t deny his heritage. But, as an offensive lineman, at least he doesn’t play the same position as his defensive end dad and older brother, Chris. He’s accepted the scrutiny that he shunned earlier.
“I was honestly was trying to run from that microscope (in football),” the 6-foot-6, 315-pound guard said. “I was under intense magnification, and I didn’t know how to deal with it. I always thought that if I played football, those comparisons would never stop.
“Now I’m happy with what I’m doing. There was a time when I tried to run away from that, but you can’t run from your bloodlines. I’m a football player; it’s in my DNA.”
But it took awhile for Long to get comfortable in his genes.
The fact that he threw a mid-90s fastball in high school gave him options. So he accepted a baseball scholarship at Florida State in 2008 but flunked out. In January 2009, he was arrested for a DUI.
“That was the moment where I realized, ‘What the heck am I doing?’” Long said. “Here I have the world in my hands, and I’m (frittering) it away.
“Once you have everything taken from you, that’s when you get an appreciation for the little things. And I’ve been able to build on those little things and get to where I am today. I intend to continue to build on those little things.”
Having grown up in a structured, close-knit family, Long embraced his first taste of freedom in college. Like a lot of other teenagers, he found plenty of distractions in Tallahassee.
“When I was given the opportunity to go astray,” he admitted, “I definitely took full advantage of it. But that was a long time ago. I’ve been on the straight and narrow for a long time.”
Dad Howie and mom Diane were both with Kyle at Halas Hall Friday, and the Hall of Famer was asked how he dealt with Kyle’s early struggles.
“I think really just you just stay committed as a parent,” the patriarch said. “You just love your kid. Kyle was, at the time, immature beyond his years. He had never been away from home. We weren’t the kind of family to send our kids away to camp. They were home, and we kind of valued that summer time.
“For eight years I coached all my boys in little league; Diane’s a team mom. Same love, three different kids, same house, (but) each kid is different, and Kyle matured at a later date. But once he did, boy, he locked in.
“At this time last year we were preparing for a graduation at a community college down in Saddleback (Cal.) Now he’s a first-round pick of the Bears.”
Even though he couldn’t admit it at the time, Long was already missing football before he played an inning of college baseball. But he resisted returning to his father’s and his older brother’s game.
“When I was at Florida State, I could hear the football helmets smacking and the whistles blowing and the coaches screaming,” Kyle said. “There wasn’t a lot of that on the baseball field. I knew I was not in the right place.”
After leaving FSU and sitting out a year, Long enrolled at Saddleback Junior College where he played a little quarterback and a little more defensive end. Neither worked, despite the defensive end success of dad and older brother Chris, a Pro Bowler with the Rams. So he moved to offensive line.
“I was pretty bad at defensive line,” Kyle admitted. “I thought maybe it ran in the family, but obviously it doesn’t.”
And that’s fine with the Bears. They’ll be happy if the newest member of the Long family to join the NFL makes a name for himself on the other side of the line of scrimmage.
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